Brave Faces

Today was a big day. I have had preschool children in my life for 9 and a half years. That is almost a quarter of my time in this earth. Today was the last day. On Monday, my baby starts school.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this. Part of me – a pretty big part, I have to admit – is utterly delighted. It’s a moment that, in dark times past, I’ve dreamt of as a shining beacon of hope. There were times when it felt impossibly far away, when I was buried alive in small, smelly, noisy babies. Work was my only respite.

But, the closer I’ve got to the light at the end of the tunnel, the easier live has become. Preschool with a handful of babies and toddlers is a whole different ball game to having one happy, easygoing 3-year old padding through the week with you: more of a tiny, fun companion than a trial. The last year of being home with my little T has been a pleasure for both of us. Sure, I’ve still had next to no time to myself or to get things done, but he has been fun to hang out with and we pleased ourselves from 9 til 3 on our days together.

Today was our last day of preschool chillin’. We popped to soft play with his best mate, who is also, thankfully, joining him in his class on Monday. We had lunch out then headed back to his mate’s house for a cuppa and to play trains before the school run. A great last day, to round off a brilliant year.

After the long summer, Monday is nearly here. The school uniform is ready, the new shoes are waiting to be filled with little feet. The home visit from his new teacher was very successful, with T chatting away confidently. Much as I was worried at the beginning of the summer that my only-just-4-year old (who loves to be babied) wouldn’t be ready, this week has made me think he just might be. He is counting the sleeps and excited to be joining his big brother and sister at school. It is just as it should be.

So, I’m getting what I’ve dreamed of, and my baby boy is growing in confidence every day and excited about his new challenge.

But….

Monday will be the end of an era. A quarter of my life, my entire parenting experience, has involved having at least one little one at home. What does parenting look like on the other side of that? Does it feel like a hole has opened up somewhere, like something has gone missing? There will be many times when I don’t have a small voice to listen out for, when I can sit and have a cup of tea in an empty house. Will that feel liberating or like something has dropped out of my world? Will I feel like I’m less needed? Just less, somehow?

The shockwaves of the end of the preschool era are really only just beginning to hit me. I always thought I’d bounce out of the playground on that first Monday morning with a skip in my step. But as I’m typing this I’m welling up thinking about it. How can something you have been waiting for for so long also be something that brings a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes?

I don’t crave babies. I never have, if I’m honest. Give me a 3 or 4-year old over a baby any day. I don’t want to go back to any past stage. Why would I when this one is so wonderful and relatively easy? But could I just freeze this moment in time for a short while, please?

Next year, my little brood will turn 10, 7 and 5. When did time start going so fast? They are growing so tall so quickly. Facebook keeps reminding me how they looked 1, 2, 3 years ago and it is beginning to get alarming. A ‘9 years ago today’ post popped up this morning with my now lanky eldest dressed as a baby bear. 9 years!? How is that possible when I remember that moment like it was yesterday?

Our summer holiday in Norfolk this year was amazing. It was so chilled and full of fun. And yes, actually relaxing for my husband and I. I can safely say that it is first family holiday since having children that we adults have come back feeling like we actually had a holiday, rather than just same shit, different location. It was incredible and it will only get better as T gets bigger and more able. No, I definitely don’t want to go back.

The only way is up. And up means the next big thing, which is school. I will have all 3 kids in one school for 2 whole years before H moves up, which will be amazing. This is the sweet spot. We have 3 kids who are now low maintenance and still love family fun as they haven’t hit teenage grumps yet. This is the bit I always meant when I wanted a big family. We need to lap this stuff up.

But….

If I’m loving the Now, why do I feel such a sense of impending loss?

For the last decade of my life I have defined myself as ‘Mummy’. It was a change so hard to face at the beginning, leaving my carefree life behind, that I almost lost myself in it at times. I’m reaching a stage when I can begin to reclaim some of who I was and, whilst that is exciting, it is also terrifying. Does that person even exist any more? How do I get back there? Or has that ship sailed? Do I have to start again and reinvent myself in a life where there will be small pockets of air in which I can begin to be Me again?

When I’m welling up, is it worry about my confident little lad that is getting to me, or is it a fear of being left as an empty shell? My life has been so crammed full of small people for so long. What’s left when you take them away, if only for a few hours a day? Is there anything left of Me to reclaim?

But I know in the light of day that these nighttime worries are all far too dramatic. I’ve always been there underneath it all and I’ve been slowly emerging and remembering who I am for some years, as the drudgery of babies falls away. I finally have a chance to lap up that childfree time that I’ve craved for so long. I am not who I was before this journey began. But that’s OK. I am something new and I’m looking forward to getting to know what that is.

Monday is going to be a big day for both me an T. Change can be a scary thing.  But I know it’s what we both need, and I think we are both ready for it. It is time to learn and grow and change. Time to come out from hiding behind Mummy. For both of us.

It’s a whole new world, kid. Brave faces on. Here we go.

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Things We Didn’t Know We’d Miss

I’ve not had the best week so far. And it appears to only be Wednesday. I mean, WTAF? Surely it should have been Friday days ago.

It’s the last few weeks of term, which is always ridiculously hectic, and there is other stuff going on to generally make life pretty full-on and stressy. Plus, it was my big birthday the other week and it turns out 40 is actually a thing, rather than just a party. Who knew? And now that party is over. Boo! So, lots of good reasons to be generally a bit frowny and cross.

When things are busy and stressful, it is hard not to pick up on the little things that bug you. And this evening on the walk home from after-school club pick-up, it all crystallised and I briefly lost my shit. All three kids took it in turns to stop immediately in front of me on my walk home for no apparent reason and with no warning, leaving my to swerve dramatically to avoid hitting them. This is clearly not unusual. Kids make a habit of it. But it was a final straw moment and I yelled at them.

All three looked up at my with their big, beautiful bambi eyes in a mildly perplexed way. I mean, they weren’t really doing anything that wrong. Mummy was clearly just having a bit of a moment. But oh, to be able to just walk in a straight line without weaving around small people, at my own pace, without boring myself stupid with the sound of my own voice telling them to mind other people and keep moving!

That is one of those things you just never even think about, pre-kids, isn’t it? You take it as a God-given right to be able to walk down the street in a straight line, ignorant in your young and free way that such a thing a kiddy slalom even exists.

Lots of these little things that we say goodbye to with the arrival of kids are well documented. Going to the loo in peace, never being able to drink a warm cup of tea, etc. But most of them are related to very small kids. Well, we’re not in that place any more and many of those temporary problems have disappeared but some of those little luxuries are showing absolutely no sign of coming back, sadly.

Cooking, for example. Remember when you only cooked what you fancied eating when you fancied it? It could even be fun, somewhat unbelievably. A whole Saturday afternoon could be dedicated to choosing a recipe, shopping for the finest ingredients you could afford and then lovingly preparing it over a glass of wine or four. I was never a chef (far from it) but it was kinda fun and relaxing. Romantic even. Pah!

These days? I loathe it. Some days, I can spend half the day in the kitchen. Packed lunches and breakfast in the morning, lunch and prep for the grown-up’s dinner in the middle of the day, over-boiling veg and flinging beige, breaded things into the oven at tea time (taking into account this week’s likes/dislikes x3 and providing three variations of the same meal). And then yet more cooking after the kids are in bed. Add in hiding in the kitchen and drinking wine on bad days (like now) and that’s a hell of a lot of kitchen time.

And then there is the cleaning up after food. I made the mistake of cooking rice for the kids for tea today. I mean, seriously, given the week I’m having, what the hell was I thinking? Utter carnage. Rice grains everywhere. And you can’t hoover the little fuckers up without smearing them all over the floor so you end up crawling about on hands and knees picking each grain up individually, kneeling on one and despositing flat rice grain gunk onto your trousers. I tried hoovering up over-cooked broccoli today. I don’t recommend it.

So, walking and cooking with kids both suck. What about something even easier, like thinking? Surely kids can’t ruin that can they? Wrong! They make it almost bloody impossible to think or concentrate, even when they are not physically present.

Now I know this is entirely my fault for having three kids, but life can be somewhat busy in this household. Try to do anything that you need to focus on for five minutes and you can guarantee you will be interrupted by at least one small voice, more often than not by multiple voices rowing about something utterly pointless. There is no such thing as thinking time in my life any more. All day long, I have little voices to contend with and when they are finally in bed I am so tired I’m incapable to clear thought.

But even worse than that, there is just soooo much to remember for them all that I find it impossible to switch off the organising bit of my brain even when they are not around. There is a little voice in my head, like a chattering monkey, reminding me that I have to pack the ballet bag, buy more Cheerios, pay the swimming fees, donate something for the school summer fair, etc, etc, etc. It never ends. Once you feel vaguely on top of the list, another load of demands come home, another essential item runs out or a totally unexpected problem rears up. It’s like plate spinning. It’s totally exhausting and mostly thankless.

And woe betide you if you drop a fucking plate! The stick I get for forgetting to pack a snack or to buy more bagels is ridiculously disproportionate in a way that only a mob of under tens can be over nothing at all. How dare I forget that this week you don’t like Mini Cheddars?! Poor, deprived kids.

Can you remember sitting and thinking about just one thing? It was bloody amazing. Only it wasn’t at the time. We had no idea it was a luxury, that it would one day flit away and we’d miss it like crazy.

But enough of this poor little me shit. I am very aware that what I get in exchange for these little luxuries is worth it a billion times over. And most of it is nothing a vat of wine or two can’t numb. I’m just moaning because it has been a crap week. And cos I’m allowed. We all are, no matter how much we love our kids. It’s moan or nervous breakdown. I know which one I prefer.

My pack of irritating little brats are simultaneously a beyond adorable bundle of unlimited love and wonder. Such is the paradox of parenting.

Who needs to think anyway, right? It’s totally overrated.

The Unbearable Dullness of Parenting

OK, so that is a really negative title and I need to explain myself before I start moaning. So here goes…..

I utterly adore my kids. Raising them is by far the most rewarding experience of my life. They are amazing little people and I wouldn’t be without them for anything in the world. In fact, they are my world. None of this should prevent me from saying the following:

It is a fact that parenting is unutterably boring at times. At many, many times, repeating off into the past and into the future as far as the eye can see – like standing between two mirrors of excruciating mundanity and seeing the same expression of mind-numbing boredom repeated on my face for years and years.

Lets go back to where the boredom really hits you. Right back to the beginning. As a pregnant first time Mum, you have a lot of worries. Ludicrously, many of them centre around getting the baby out. Yeah, like that is the biggest issue you are going to face in the next 30 years (let’s not kid ourselves we stop parenting when they hit 18). You also worry about how you will cope, lack of sleep, change in lifestyle – all very worthy things to worry about. But I bet boredom isn’t in the top three concerns for many of us. It should be.

When you go from being an independent, working woman with a great job, a husband you truly share domestic duties with and the ability to go out wherever and whenever you want with nothing but your keys and wallet in hand, then the change to being tied to a mini person 24/7 is very painful indeed. The physical stuff is what preoccupies you at first but after a very short time it is the mental stuff. At least it was with me. Being stuck at home with a baby who gives very little back (other than endless screaming in the case of my first mini monster) is soul destroying. The constant feeding, the lack of sleep all takes it’s toll but the loneliness is not something I was remotely prepared for.

I needed adult company so badly, to alleviate the boredom. I did all the baby groups to find friends but mostly it was a painful experience on far too little sleep. I did make some great friends and we helped each other through, and my Mum came over every week too, but even they could only plug so much of the yawning void that was my day, from hideous o’clock to collapsing into to bed as soon as the baby was down. My necessarily early bedtimes meant I couldn’t even get much adult contact from my husband. He came home, we stuffed down food as we got the baby to bed and then I passed out.

After just a few months in my new life I found myself going out of my way to engage the woman at Co-op in mundane conversation, just to have another adult to talk to. Bleak times.

I don’t think anything prepares you for that feeling of isolation, of being one-to-one with your baby, feeling lost and inadequate and, above all, alone. And feeling terrible guilt for being bored by this little miracle that you have produced. Being scared to say it is boring because that means you have somehow failed to ‘get’ it. That to admit the boredom in the face of smiling peers who appear on the surface to be loving every moment, makes you an absolute failure.

Things improved dramatically after that first year but I had to wait until the onset of school to really feel I’d arrived and shaken off the lonely. The playground brings more friends than you can shake a stick at and I have met some absolute gems. We are all in the same boat and, at 4-5 years in, no one is pretending any more. We all know how ball-achingly dull it can be and we help each other through that, mostly with a shared love of wine. I don’t feel alone in it any more, which is a wonderful thing. Far more wonderful than I could have imagined before kids.

But your kids getting older certainly doesn’t make much of looking after them any less dull. Providing them with food has always been one of my lest favourite things. From the early days of mush and messy teatimes that lasted a lifetime, to today with my 9, 6 and 3 year olds, who collectively will eat just one meal that they all like without variations. It drive me insane.

I am not a natural in the kitchen but I’ve tried all the homemade, slaved over meals which invariably end up in the bin. After 9 years of struggle, I have come up with a formula that I can live with. Basically, spend as little time and effort on a vaguely healthy meal as is humanly possible, so you don’t want to cry when they turn their noses up and say “That’s disgusting!” 2 out of 3 in this house are beyond fussy and I’ve found that sticking to what we know and not making anything that I’ve sweated over makes for happier kids and happier me. That said, cooking the same 6 meals over and over and over again makes me want to violently throw plastic bowls around the kitchen (something I am a tad prone to doing – it is more socially acceptable than screaming in your kids’ tiny faces). Turns out even plastic can smash if you throw it hard enough. Who knew?

On the rare mornings that I get a lie in and listen to the noise of breakfast preparation downstairs I am unbearably happy and grateful, just for being let off that daily task of the breakfast production line and dishwasher empty. At that moment, it feels like the greatest gift my husband could bestow. How sad is that?

Bizarrely, my preschooler eats everything I’ve ever offered him apart from olives and smoked salmon. I have treated him exactly the same as the other two, he just isn’t a dick about food. This has the benefit at least of letting me off the guilt of having created terrible eaters. I didn’t create them. They just are.

I think most of the boredom these days stems from the endless repetition of the daily slog: meals, packed lunches, washing, the school run. It never ends. It is never ‘done’. It is hard to find any sense of accomplishment on a hamster wheel.

And one of the most boring things of all is the sound of my own voice.   “Could you do your teeth? Put your pants on. Stop climbing on the sofa. Can you please just be nice to each other for five minutes? Put your shoes on. Have you been to the loo?” Shut up woman!! No wonder they ignore you, you never stop saying the same old crap all day long!

Getting three kids up and out of the house for the morning school run  sometimes seems like a microcosm of all the mundanity rolled into one. I provide food, clean, and tell the middle one to get dressed about 10 times before she is even close. There are so many repeated tasks to do and things to remember that it would make you weep if you wrote them all down. It takes so long to get out the door that I get started on it a full 10 minutes before we are actually supposed to leave. And all to the unending soundtrack of my voice on repeat. I look forward to them all being at school in September just so that I can shut the fuck up for an hour after drop off, to make up for the constant morning nagging.

But it is good to remember that it isn’t really my kids that I find boring. They have their moments and there are times I’d kill for them to be off playing nicely without climbing all over me, asking complicated questions that make my tired brain hurt or upsetting each other. But they are generally pretty ace. It is all the shit I have to do for them and the process of getting them from place to place that is really boring. And yes, I know that is all part of parenting. But it – like the loneliness – is a part we don’t talk about much. And by pretending we love every moment, we are doing ourselves and each other a disservice. Honestly talking about the good and the bad is always the way forward.

It is OK to find this shit boring. It is boring. It is also OK to alleviate that boredom by having long What’s App chats and large glasses of wine. It doesn’t mean we love our kids any less if we have a moan about the fact we find it really, really boring having to extricate their pants from their inside-out trousers when we do the washing.

My Crew

I’ve recently been watching Mutiny, a reality TV show on Channel 4 recreating Captain Bligh’s 4,000 mile trip in a small sailing boat. My husband loves that kind of shit. Much as I’d never choose to watch it myself, it is weirdly addictive. Seeing how this collection of completely different strangers struggle to adapt to the challenge together is fascinating.

It’s been a pretty full-on week here. Although I seem to say that every week so I think I have to admit it is just a full-on life.  This week is perhaps a bit more crazy than usual as my husband is away and, with Mutiny on my mind, I keep thinking of my little crew here and how we navigate the world together. OK, so we are far from strangers, but our characters are all very different. The challenge of working each of the three kids out emotionally, fulfilling their physical needs and just getting shit done in limited time is never-ending. I feel a bit like Mutiny’s long suffering Captain, just trying to steer the bloody boat through storms with a motley crew that sometimes seem to be doing their utmost to capsize it.

Unlike on Mutiny, our little boat is pretty happy on the whole but the sea can be brutal and we sometime bob around so violently that we all cling together for dear life.

With my husband away, my First Mate is H. H is my worrier. Life is a scary place for him. He worries about pirates and sharks. He is scared of blood and easily stressed. As First Mates go, he isn’t that well equipt to handle the pressure.

Being embarrassed is becoming one of his major worries, a sign of the approaching pre-teenage years, perhaps. Unfortunately, Mums and younger siblings were designed to embarrass and annoy. The little two know exactly how to push his very sensitive buttons and send him spinning off into a freak out over next to nothing.

That said, he is a kind, gentle and unique little man. If the boat was operated by computer, we’d never need to worry about getting lost as he is already a tech whizz. He is as honest as the day is long and follows the rules to the letter. What more could you ask for in a First Mate? Perhaps a few less freak-outs to stop the boat tipping violently would be nice. And a few less grumpy grunts when given instructions.

Next comes M, the Engineer. My little scientist and all round clever clogs. OK, so she does a fair bit of undermining and generally goading the First Mate – and she never, ever shuts up – but she is generally the most helpful member of the crew. Always willing to muck in and help (even when you’d much rather she didn’t), the Engineer takes after the Captain and is an optimist. The glass is half full with this one, always. Life is fun, even when stuck in a rocking boat with a hole in the bottom.

She asks constant questions about the direction we are heading in, how the compass works, which way the earth is spinning and how to navigate by the stars. She giggles and chatters her way across the ocean. She has her foot stamping moments and there are times when she gets weepy and no-one is sure why, including her. But she is a top notch Engineer and keeps the crew entertained with both her singing and her endless supply of fart jokes.

M is also a pleaser and would rather make the rest of the crew happy than satisfy herself. I love that in her and I know it well as that is how I operate. We make a good pair, M and I, and I’d be lost in an Ocean of Boy without her smiles.

Then we come to the Deckhand, young Master T. Where to start with this one? He is both wonderful and terrible, full of emotion and energy. He is great company half of the time and an absolute menace for the other half. He hasn’t been well this week so not at his best but, even at the best of times, he has his big brother’s flare for melodrama, his big sister’s chatter and energy and his very own total disregard for rules. As a member of the crew, he is worse than useless. He is lazy and refuses to do anything if he can wait for someone else to do it for him. Like a typical baby of the bunch, he knows he can get away with murder and frequently does. He is a cheeky, moody whirlwind. And crap at swabbing decks.

Much as I lump myself in with the glass half full brigade, I have to admit that this Captain can feel a bit stressed out by the crew at times. Not only am I trying to keep the boat from capsizing but also to keep it moving in roughly the right direction. As I attempt to contend with my collection of  madcap and maddening kids, it sometimes just takes too  much out of me. I finish the day utterly exhausted. There is no such thing as ‘me time’ most days and, even when there is, I’m often too knackered to use it to do the things I enjoy, the things that help me restore my sense of myself.

The tide rolls on. There is no time for navel gazing. But I am hopeful that, come September, when the tempestuous Deckhand heads off to school, I maybe – just maybe – might reclaim some of myself. I’ll have done 9.5 years of preschoolers by the then. Nearly a decade, a good quarter of my life! That is insane to think of and surely beats Bligh’s 4,000 odd miles at sea, hands down.

I think this Captain deserves a bit of a time out, although I don’t think I’ll know what to do with myself to begin with. They’ll still be work, school, mayhem galore, but there will also be a few precious kid-free hours once or twice a week when I can get off the boat and just chill on the beach. Or just get shit done without having kids hanging off me.

I reckon I should get some sort of long service medal come September, don’t you? Or perhaps a promotion. I think I’d suit an Admiral’s hat.

A Tale of Two Weeks

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After nearly 9 years of parenting, you would think I would be used to the rollercoaster-style ups and downs. Well, if anything was still needed to bring those highs and lows home to me, the last two weeks have done just that.

Week 1 sucked. Chicken Pox struck T, the last of the three to come down with it. Not only was he grotty and miserable but we were in much dreaded quarantine. Given that quarantine with a preschooler is one of my least favourite things, I think I handled the news pretty well. I didn’t cry and wail. I simply stocked up on wine, gritted my teeth and hoped for a speedy week.

img_1807Trying to balance the needs of a spotty, bored child with working was, unsurprisingly, rather stressful. I spent a lot of time jumping on and off conference calls whenever T’s little voice piped up mid important conversation about income streams. The rest of the time was spent feeling guilty that I was failing both as an employee and a mother. Double whammy guilt. My favourite. I had to take some time off in the end to prevent meltdown and, once I’d admitted defeat, I felt a lot better. After all, spotty 3-year olds really don’t make the best work-mates.

I also had to call in lots of favours to get the other two kids where they needed to be in the busy week before Half Term. It was a juggling act, trying to make sure everything still happened as it should for them without being able to leave the house much. Thanks to all the lovely local friends who did their bit. I owe you.

On top of illness, it was just one of those weeks. Nothing seemed to go right. The usually entirely reliable car developed a rattle which ended up costing us nearly £300. And even when T was back on his feet and we could escape the confines of the house again, the world seemed against us.

img_1803I had a big worry going on all week too over H’s tutor. He really struggles with numbers and he has been to tutors on and off for several years but, for one reason or another, we have never found the right one for Maths. I had just about reached the point of wondering if it was worth continuing with the current tutor, which started me off worrying about it all again and whether we are doing the right thing to help support him. I am always so torn between wanting to do all we can to help H to keep up in class and wanting to take the pressure off – remembering that he is still only a little boy and that the last thing he wants is to be spending his weekend crunching numbers after a tiring week at school.

It is so tough to know what to do for the best. The curriculum is so damn hard these days, I worry a lot about H keeping on top of it. I want him to succeed but I also want him to be happy and have a stress-free childhood. Sometimes, those things seem entirely incompatible.

Having lots of time at home with Pox Boy and a head full of little worries is a bad combination. I stewed, big time. I finished the week exhausted, having had far too many alcohol units (every night is wine night on quarantine week) and with a head full of stresses, blown up out of all proportion.

The week ended in suitably disastrous style at the final school pick up on Friday afternoon. T was out of quarantine but still utterly foul. He had a killer meltdown over wanting someone else’s water bottle in the playground. Whilst I was doing my best to pretend the screaming monster was nothing to do with me, M came out of class and promptly fell backwards into the mud. Before I’d managed to brush her down, H came out in floods of tears over a lost book. T managed to keep up his screaming throughout our hunt around the classroom for said book and the entire walk home. Smiling kids and Mums exchanged “Happy Half Term” farewells, while I dragged my screaming/sobbing/mud covered brood home and opened yet more wine. Such fun!

Thankfully, I had a night away at my best mate’s 40th on the Saturday, which involved a good deal of booze (yes, more) and so much living room dancing that my feet hurt the next day. The best possible Pox Week antidote I could have wished for.

img_1800So begins Week 2. The Pox was a distant memory (apart from the crusty spots, mostly hanging out in T’s mass of blonde fluffy hair) and my husband had the week booked off work for Half Term. I came to a decision to cancel the tutor and give us all a break from it for a month or two, which took the pressure off me and H and was a good start to the week. And I asked for an unplanned day off work, to make the most of our week together.

Two consecutive weeks could not be more different if they tried. Week 2 has been a total delight. It has been filled to the brim with family time and fun.

We’ve been for pub lunches where nobody lost their shit or embarrassed us. We had our best family cinema trip yet, to see The Lego Batman Movie. Even T managed to sit still (sometimes on his own seat and sometimes on my lap) for almost the entire film, only asking five minutes from the end if we could go home.

img_1801We made a rare trip to London, to the Natural History Museum. We didn’t take the pushchair and T coped amazingly well with all the walking. The older two got so much out of the experience that I’m already planning our next London trip, to the Science Museum next time. H said it was an “utterly awesome” day and both the older two have been talking about it ever since. You can’t ask for a lot more than that out of a day trip. The journey home on a massively overcrowded and delayed train was no kind of fun but the kids were so well behaved in challenging circumstances that we were complimented on how good they were, which made me feel pretty proud of them all, especially little T, who was exhausted by the time we got home.

I’ve done my usual thing of overdoing it, stuffing our week so full that we are all more shattered after Half Term than we were before it. But it has been bloody brilliant and I don’t regret it at all. More than anything else, it has reminded me that, when you remove the outside stress – work, school, tutors, clubs – from the equation, we are a very happy little family unit these days. It is the external stuff that causes the stress for the most part, not problems from within. That definitely hasn’t always been the case, which makes me feel even more grateful to know that, as a unit, we are pretty sorted these days and very good mates. Yes, we can drive each other mad and we all need time out, but together we mostly rock. And that makes me really happy.

Next week it is back to work and back to school. We can’t live in this happy little bubble of day trips and eating out forever. We’d be broke within a month for one thing. Plus, we all need to get stuff done, be that earning a crust or learning our times tables.

The return to the school run and manic push and pull between work, home, school and other activities doesn’t fill me with joy but I go back to it with a sense that we have all recharged and reminded ourselves that we have each other, and that what we have is pretty special. The trick it to keep that in mind as we get bogged down in all the external stuff again. Our little unit rocks. We just need more weeks like Week 2 to help us remember that.

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The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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